What is El Camino de Santiago and the Way of St James?

Read about Compostela, Concha Scallop Shell, Waymarker symbol, St James Cross Cruz and Tau jewellery souvenirs

. . and discover the history of El Camino de Santiago / The Way of St James and about the symbols and their meanings.

El Camino (or the Way of St James) is one of the greatest walks in the world. Primarily though, it is a pilgrimage across Spain to the famous Gothic Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, where it is believed that Saint James (one of Jesus’s apostles) is buried. It has its roots in the 9th Century AD when a shepherd found James’s remains in what is now Compostela and the local Bishop ordered a church to be built on the site. It is second only to Rome and Jerusalem for Christian travellers.

See examples of:

–  Camino de Santiago jewellery  and other

–  Miscellaneous Camino de Santiago gifts  in our shop.

Buen Camino on the Way

¡Buen Camino! – the call on the Way to Santiago de Compostela

These days in our more secular society, the walk (some travellers cycle, but over 90% travel on foot) is more often than not seen as an “experience”, or a challenge . . a way to get fit, perhaps, even a walking holiday. Of course, there are still thousands of people who have Christian or spiritual reasons to make the journey but more and more “pilgrims” choose to do the Camino for personal, rather than any spiritual or religious reasons – taking time out from their busy/modern lives whilst reflecting on their life in a supporting environment. Surprisingly however, although everyone experiences the Camino in a different way, many report finding some sort of inspiration along the route, whether through meeting people and making new friends, or simply because of the somewhat esoteric atmosphere they seem to experience along the way, whether crossing the vast open plains of northern Spain (on the most common route – El Camino Frances) or the adventures they encounter in some of the small pueblos (villages) and little chapels that are dotted along the route.

Hope companionship support on Camino

Some 250,000 people travel the Camino each year from all over the world and many write blogs and even books about their adventure. Many carry with them a symbol of El Camino – a Scallop Shell or St James Cross.

Camino symbols
Joyas del Camino symbols

Why these symbols?

This “Way of St James” (English translation from the Spanish “Camino de Santiago”) is named after one of the Disciples, James the Greater (Iago in old Spanish / Galician . . Sant Iago) who had travelled to Iberia from the Middle East to preach the Gospel, and was subsequently buried there). His remains were allegedly discovered in the 9th Century by a shepherd in the “Field of Stars” (Compostela) covered in scallop shells – a mollusc native to the rough Atlantic coast around Galicia, and hence this connection with one of the principal symbols of El Camino – La Vieira Concha de Santiago – the scallop shell.

So, we have two principle symbols of El Camino de Santiago:

*  Concha / Scallop Shell (in French this scallop is called Coquille Saint Jacques, and in German Jakobsmuscheln (James mussels)): In the old days, a pilgrim would present themselves at a church, castle, abbey and so on along the Way, and they would hope to be given a little sustenance such as oats or barley from this fertile agricultural region. They would use the shell to scoop up or measure food gifted in this way. And when the pilgrims arrived in Santiago de Compostela after walking their Camino, they were given a scroll that confirmed them as pilgrims – a “Compostela” which featured the shell symbol. They could take this ‘Vieira’ symbol back home as a badge of achievement. Nowadays it has become a symbol of pilgrimage in general – a mark of achievement, as well as a souvenir of a great journey. For this reason, it is often gifted to pass on blessings to someone travelling (moving abroad, for example, or even moving house). It can say “Have a good trip” , “Safe Journey” and so on. It also makes a lovely Christening or Communion gift – or another Christian festival like Christmas or Easter.

Scallop shell symbol cufflinks

So, the use of the scallop shell as a means to gift protection (or as a protective charm, and to wish safekeeping along the way) to travellers, dates back many years. This concha scallop shell symbol features extensively on Camino de Santiago gifts and souvenirs.

*  Cross of St James (Cruz de Santiago): A distinct-shaped cross which combines a cross fitchy (the lower limb is pointed, as if to be driven into the ground) with a cross fleury (fleurs-de-lys) at the ends of the arms. Over time, it has become an icon of Galicia: St James is not only the Patron Saint of Galicia, he is also the Patron Saint of all of Spain. It should also be noted that the St. James Cross, when featued red on a white background, is also the most popular Christian cross of all time – a symbol of God’s protection. Once again, the Saint James Cross is prominent on Camino de Santiago souvenirs and gifts:

St James cross symbol
Camino de Santiago jewellery

*  There is a third symbol – the WayMarker, which is a diagrammatic form of the Scallop shell that is located along the Camino de Santiago route to guide walkers / bikers as to the correct route – and is another Camino de Santiago symbol that features extensively on Camino gifts and souvenirs and in the Camino de Santiago stores:

Waymarker scallop shell sign

*  And possibly a fourth – the Tau Cross, because, although related to St Francis of Assisi in Italy, it is known as the Cross of Pilgrims (Cruz del Peregrinos in Spanish). Indeed, you will find a lot of jewellery in Galicia (and in our online shop) featuring BOTH the Scallop shell and the Tau Cross (and, of course, the Cross of St James).

Tau cross St Francis symbol necklace
Faith jewellery

These symbols of El Camino when featured on jewellery and other items also make popular souvenirs and mementos of a journey.

Please see our   SHOP   for St James Crosses and Scallop Shell Conchas on jewellery and as souvenirs of a journey – especially pendant necklaces, bracelets and earrings, cufflinks and rings which we ship all over the world as gifts for Camino walkers and other travellers. Our Camino de Santiago jewellery ( Joyas del Camino de Santiago ) in particular is exceptional for its quality – much of it being hand-crafted by notable and renowned goldsmiths in Galicia and Asturias.

Way to Santiago waymarker

We are friends of the Camino – Amigos del Camino, and so most of our Camino jewellery is handcrafted by local goldsmiths in Galicia and Asturias. Every piece of Camino jewellery we ship is gift-wrapped and includes an information card about the Way of Saint James / El Camino de Santiago, and the significance of the Scallop shell and the Cross of St James.

Discover El Camino de Santiago / The Way of St James symbols, jewellery, souvenirs and other Camino gifts we sell in our shop online